I learned such a lot from this morning’s programme. I just hope I can remember the lot. The culture of India, although we’ve been across there several times on the programme and I’ve been there several times myself, continues not only to fascinate me but in some ways to elude me. The fact is it needs far more concentrated and sustained attention than I have hitherto given it. But this morning was a tremendous prologue.
Afterwards Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad talked about Indian astronomy in the thirteenth century, and the combination of an astronomer who had brought in ideas from Greece and the brilliant Indian mathematicians of the day, which led to discoveries in advance of those made by Copernicus. The interplay between Greek and Indian culture was far more developed than I’d ever given consideration to.
You might like some notes from the notes. There’s a Vedic scholar, Michael Witzel (born in 1943), who is Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, and he’s just published a book called The Origins of the World’s Mythologies, in which he argues that a basic creation story is reflected in all the scriptures of the world and goes back to our ancient ancestors who came out of Africa.
I was interested in similarities as well as differences between the Hindu ideas and Western Christian ideas. And in the Hymn of Creation it was Brahma who was the first creature in existence and he and others were described as being “self-born”. The parallel in scholastic thought is with the thinkers, like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who wrote on ipseity. He and his contemporaries articulated the view that God was a self-existing being, an entity which existed by his own divine power and did not have to be created.
Nietzsche may have been influenced by the Hindu cycles of creation and destruction, especially the idea of ‘eternal recurrence’. He gained his information through his colleague and friend Paul Deussen, who was a German Orientalist and a Sanskrit scholar who wrote a book called The Philosophy of the Upanishads.
And of course there’s the tantalising comparison between contemporary physics and ancient creation myths. Gavin Flood thinks it’s dangerous to make such connections, but again and again there seemed to be connections to be made. For instance, was the Big Bang the beginning of something or the recurring end of something?
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